There are plenty of nice reasons to get married, but increasingly the basic experience of being married doesn't seem all that different from simply living together without ever making it legal—or living in sin, as our grandmothers like to call it. Now there's some new research that proves that the line between marriage and cohabitation has been blurred to such an extent that it's barely visible.
The study, which appears in the Journal of Marriage and Family, found that being married doesn't really have any long term advantage over living together—at least in terms of happiness, health, and one's social life. Previous research compared being married only to being single or studied marriage versus cohabitation at fixed points in time. What's interesting about this new research is that it looks at people who started out single but married or began cohabitating during a six year period, which allows us to more clearly see what changed when couples paired up and what the lasting effects were. The study focused primarily on well-being, which encompasses "happiness, levels of depression, health, and social ties."
What researchers discovered was that there's an initial bump in well-being right after a person marries or moves in with someone, as compared to staying single. But this advantage was short lived—in other words, the honeymoon came to an end and people fell back down to reality, which can be a miserable place whether you're married or single. Interestingly, one significant difference between those who coupled up and those who stayed single was that marriage and cohabitation led to people having less contact with their parents and friends, and this effect appeared to last.
When you compare the effects of marriage against those of cohabitation, the differences tended to be small and faded after that initial honeymoon period. Dr. Kelly Musick of Cornell University, who conducted the study, outlines the disparities that were seen between the two:
[W]hile married couples experienced health gains—likely linked to the formal benefits of marriage such as shared healthcare plans—cohabiting couples experienced greater gains in happiness and self-esteem. For some, cohabitation may come with fewer unwanted obligations than marriage and allow for more flexibility, autonomy, and personal growth.
I guess the trade-off is that marriage tends to come with more dishes and fancy towels? But seriously in the end, the difference between the two are minimal, says Dr. Musick:
[O]ur research shows that marriage is by no means unique in promoting well-being and that other forms of romantic relationships can provide many of the same benefits.
That's a useful little nugget to remember should you ever find yourself confronted by that particular kind of aggressively happy married person who, if given the chance, will corner you and try to convince you that marriage is the most wonderful thing ever, that something magical happens inside of you the moment you say "I do," and that you would be foolish not to experience it yourself. Now if they annoy you, you can tell them to shove it because you have science on your side.
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